[Review] ‘THE FALCON & THE WINTER SOLDIER’ starts with Cap’s buddies solo, saving the comedy for later


Travis Leamons // Film Critic


Rated TV-PG, about 45 minutes per episode
Creator: Malcom Spellman
Cast: Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Emily VanCamp, Adepero Oduye, Wyatt Russell, and Daniel Brühl

“On your left.” 

With those three words, a friendship was struck between Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) at the start of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, the film that introduced audiences to both Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the latter of whom was Captain America’s best friend from the 1940s, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan).

Much has happened to these three, and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe in general. Heroes that have been underdeveloped and less utilized in super-sized Avengers’ installments are now getting a new lease thanks to Disney+.

THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER, following the enormous success of WANDAVISION, gives us two more heroes where they can grow. Only this time, it isn’t the subject of grief that is tackled but the existential crisis of identity. 

Who is Sam Wilson post-blip? Set six months after returning to a world five years older (where big brothers are now little brothers on account of the time gap), as his alter-ego the Falcon, Wilson seems in rarefied form. Tangling with paragliding terrorists and rescuing lives is all in a day’s work for the super-enhanced PJ (pararescuemen). His quippy remarks and happy-go-lucky demeanor are all a front. Wilson is at an impasse after Steve Rogers bequeathed him his famous shield. It’s a symbol of selflessness and remembrance for the man who held it. But in his hands, is he just the Falcon with Captain America’s shield? Wilson feels burdened, unable to assume the mantle and be the man Steve Rogers knows him to be.   

“The legacy of that shield is complicated,” Wilson professes. It’s the truth, and how Anthony Mackie delivers the line reverberates loud. Considering his place in America, a financially strapped Black hero – it’s not like the Avengers have yearly salaries when it comes to making a living, after all – could Wilson be taken seriously as the new Captain America? For the first episode, at least, showrunner Malcolm Spellman delivers some hard truths about our two heroes’ personal and social struggles. 

Those expecting Sam and Bucky adhering to buddy-cop formula out of the gate, making wisecracks and setting the action cycle to hot, will have to wait a bit longer. Our heroes don’t share a single scene for the premiere episode. Wilson gets things moving explosively before he and his sister, Sarah (PARIAH’s Adepero Oduye), squabble over finances and the crestfallen legacy of the fishing business their father built. 

As for Bucky, well, he’s in therapy. Not therapy like Tony Soprano therapy. His sessions are a provision of being pardoned for being a mind-controlled killer for Hydra. Like Natasha Romanova (Black Widow), he’s got blood on his hands, and he’s got to atone for what he’s done. Gritting his teeth, he goes along with the court-ordered therapy. He wakes up from nightmares in a cold sweat, continuously reliving past sins, and his therapist (Amy Aquino) knows it—even if Bucky won’t openly discuss the guilt that he still carries.   

The man is hurting, but he keeps everything locked up, shielding the world from the ongoing battles. Now, Tony Stark’s best bud, Rhodey (Don Cheadle), may be the War Machine, but Bucky’s Winter Soldier has always been coming or going from one fight to the next. Plenty of war, no peace. 

The emotional fragility has been compounded. By the time the first episode ends, we get a sense that the Falcon and the Winter Soldier are still struggling to acclimate to life where it’s hard to move on and get ahead in a world that’s literally passed them by. 

This first episode opens big, offering action-packed thrills. Still, by investing the majority of its time in our heroes’ emotional states, it’s a compelling bit of subterfuge for what THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER promised: Marvel’s take on mismatched buddy comedies.

With a new terrorist group (The Flag Smashers) on the rise, and Daniel Brühl’s Baron Zemo character lurking somewhere, our heroes are likely to butt heads and kick ass in upcoming episodes. Still, the premiere episode is a solemn reminder of what it means to be broken and that even if you are a superhero, in the eyes of many, you are not exempt from the problems that exist based on skin color. 

Grade: B+

The premiere episode of FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER is now available exclusively on Disney+. New episodes of the six-episode season will be released each Friday.

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